Still Moving Forward

The new Life Sciences Building will soon offer more opportunities for interaction between students and faculty.

By Natalie Taylor

New Life Sciences BuildingWith just under two semesters until the projected completion date of May 31, 2014, the new Life Sciences Building is coming right along. And, according to Associate Dean Jim Porter, construction is right on track.

Although the John A. Widtsoe Building has greatly served the college for nearly fifty years, the building currently poses several structural problems, including large amounts of fragile glass piping and an overall framework that is not seismically sound. Even beyond these physical challenges, the Widtsoe Building’s design no longer adequately serves the college’s collaborative climate. Constructed with single-faculty labs, the Widtsoe Building retains a setup that enables individual rather than collaborative interaction between faculty and students. The new building was constructed with not only a much sturdier structure, but also a more open floor plan.

In fact, openness and adaptability were two of the most important concepts the college asked the designers and architects to keep in mind as they drew up the plans.

One way designers have promoted both openness and synergy between departments is in the formation of the laboratories on each floor. These labs, designed with shared equipment and fewer walls, contain many moveable pieces, including benches, gas and electricity hookups, shelves, and even walls. The walls in these labs were designed to promote both a literal and figurative removing of barriers amongst faculty within the college as well as between faculty and students. Porter looks forward to the collaborative spirit this open design invites. As he describes it, “Faculty will rub shoulders and run into each other a lot more often, which will foster informal discussions that we’re not able to have right now.”

Of the college’s seven departments, five will move to the new building: Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology, Physiology and Developmental Biology, Plant and Wildlife Sciences, and Health Science. Similar to the layout of offices in the Joseph Fielding Smith Building, the new Life Sciences Building will house faculty offices on all floors along the east and west sides of the building, making it easier for students to find and talk with their professors and more convenient for faculty to interact with one another.

A familiar scene to many students in the Widtsoe Building is the frequent congestion between class periods of anatomy labs. In the new building, all of the teaching laboratories, including anatomy labs, will be on the second floor—also known as the “student” floor. Rather than being cramped in congested halls or struggling through slow-moving crowds between classes, students will be able to move to their classes quickly in the larger hallways as well as talk and study in groups with greater ease and comfort. The built-in common areas surrounding the lab classrooms will include tables, couches, vending machines, and much more space overall. Students will also be able to reserve conference rooms for study groups or other meetings. This “student” floor will also house Student Services (the college’s student advisement center), a Biology 100 help center, other areas where students can meet with teaching assistants, and large computer labs. Additionally, the second floor will contain three lecture halls with a combined seating capacity of approximately four hundred.

After years of planning, designing, and building, the new Life Sciences Building is almost complete, and it offers much to look forward to. The College of Life Sciences will miss the Widtsoe Building, but, as Porter says, “We’re definitely excited to move into the new building.”

For a live feed of the building’s progress, visit

Photo courtesy of Dr. Jim Porter